DC.5.04 — Political astronomy: Comet and meteor observations by Muslim historians

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Aug 10th at 9:20 AM until 9:30 AM

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Author(s): Ramesh Chander Kapoor1

Institution(s): 1. Indian Institute of Astrophysics (Retd.)

Eclipses and unexpected phenomena like comets, meteors, novae and earthquakes were viewed among various cultures as violating the established order of the heavens. They were considered to be ill omens for kings and emperors and were routinely monitored. The present work looks into the texts of history and literature by Muslim historians and chroniclers in West Asia and India that carry stray references to such phenomena. The accounts often relate the apparitions to specific disastrous events or prognosticate revolts, deaths, epidemics, earthquakes all that that took place in later times. Obviously, the occurrences interested the astrologers more. Comet appearances would last for days and weeks but nearly all the writings lack sequential observations. Meteor showers are annual features but the Islamic calendar being lunar would not easily lead one to notice periodic nature of the incidents, let alone sensing a periodicity in comet appearances. These are non-astronomy texts with little scientific content but being from different ages permit us to see how the astronomical perceptions changed over the times. The recorded details and firm chronology, tested against modern back calculations, can provide valuable information on them, keeping in mind the text and the context in which the original reference was made. We also notice a qualitative change in the Indian writings of the 18th century and later where the authors begin to show up with influence of exposure to the European scientific progress.